I watched the movie (starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, produced by Mel Brooks; what wasn't to like?), and I immediately had to read the bookI watched the movie (starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, produced by Mel Brooks; what wasn't to like?), and I immediately had to read the book. Yes, it's charming and funny and appealing to book nerds, but I primarily loved how kind it all was. It's about how you can hold other people, people you've never met, in your heart and in your mind, you can act with generosity and thoughtfulness and not crash into an imperturbable wall of cynicism, and the world is a better place for that. ...more
Well, I, for one, am happy I was "the Nellie." No, not just happy, proud. And eternally grateful. All I can say is, thank you. It's like I tell people
Well, I, for one, am happy I was "the Nellie." No, not just happy, proud. And eternally grateful. All I can say is, thank you. It's like I tell people at my stand-up shows: by making me a bitch, you have given me my freedom, the freedom to say and do things I couldn't do if I was a "nice girl" with some sort of stupid, goody-two-shoes image to keep up. Things that require courage. Things that require balls. Things that need to be done. By making me a bitch, you have freed me from the trite, sexist, bourgeois prison of "likeability." Any idiot can be liked. It takes talent to scare the crap out of people.
A really awesome memoir: very funny, sometimes sad and angry-making, but always quite thoughtful. ...more
Really strong and smart writing, even if the narrative was sometimes overlong. What made this memoir an above-average read was its accessible, intelliReally strong and smart writing, even if the narrative was sometimes overlong. What made this memoir an above-average read was its accessible, intelligent analysis of identity issues, and how it was relentlessly intersectional (lots of fistpumping and yes!-ing from me, and he didn't even use the term!), especially as the book progressed. And it doesn't paint a one-sided rosy, blame-avoiding picture about identity, either; Samuelsson demonstrates a very level-headed, fair-minded approach to his work and to analyzing issues of race, culture, identity, etc. in professional kitchens and in his life. I found it thoughtful and personal and basically the opposite of didactic.
The few times the book does point fingers, Samuelsson gets unsubtly subtle in this way that's hard to describe--like, "Look at how he's not saying it, but he's making it remarkably clear!"--for example, with the passage on Gordon Ramsay (every time I hear any story involving Gordon Ramsay, I assume people must be exaggerating [I've never seen any of his shows], only all the stories are the same, only each one worse than the one before), or the reference to indentured servitude and buying back his name. I thought this also worked really well. Very pointed.
And, yeah, all the food stuff was good, too. I enjoy stories about how people encounter, discover, and respect food from other cultures without a lot of exoticizing, and there's lots of that here....more
Amusing, and I liked how she addressed sexism in little and big ways, but there just wasn't a lot of content or meatiness to it. Plus, I get bored witAmusing, and I liked how she addressed sexism in little and big ways, but there just wasn't a lot of content or meatiness to it. Plus, I get bored with self-deprecating humor pretty easily. (I preferred Mindy Kaling's book. There. I said it.)...more
"Sometimes I think of myself as an archaeologist of social despair, unearthing, layer by layer, my clients' descent into criminal jeopardy. The innoce
"Sometimes I think of myself as an archaeologist of social despair, unearthing, layer by layer, my clients' descent into criminal jeopardy. The innocent are often drawn into a vulnerable position by the same destructive forces. This investigation was leading, as so many of my cases did, to the critical intersection of poverty and health. Mental illness, child abuse, environmental toxins--all are damaging on their own. When they are intertwined with poverty, the result is often a hopeless downward spiral."
And it's people like Andrea Lyon who recognize and attempt to help these clients reclaim the humanity the justice system tries to deny them. In this extremely powerful memoir of her work as a trail-blazing defense attorney, Lyon relates the stories of various murder cases and her commitment to ensuring our justice system lives up to its name.
Despite Lyon's accomplishments, there's little self-congratulation here. She is unfailingly sincere and honest, depicting her own biases and prejudices, her own shortcomings, her own embarrassments. She's a smart and passionate hard worker doing smart and passionate hard work. She demonstrates times her empathy assists in advocating for her clients, and the work it takes for her to access that empathy, but her empathy comes across in subtle, universal ways as well. Let's face it, empathy is scary, especially in the criminal justice system. ("Sure, being human in this inhumane system comes with a cost," Lyon writes. "If you open yourself up to emotional involvement with your clients, the prospect of losing is frightening, and the reality of losing hurts like hell. But it's a price I am willing to pay. Or maybe it's a price I don't know how not to pay.") And her empathy practically rubs off through the text; I related to her a lot, I was tearing up at various passages, and I finished the book feeling better informed about not only the work a good defense attorney does, and just how treacherous and difficult of an arena the legal system is.
This isn't a crunchy analysis of the flaws in our justice system, or a hard-hitting tell-all about the racism or sexism that Lyon witnessed in the courtroom. She touches upon all of that, and it's intertwined within the entire narrative, but a reader looking for that kind of book, or for a thorough analysis of the data supporting arguments against capital punishment, should look elsewhere. I still at times wished for more information or references to studies in regards to information, however. (False Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent, which I read earlier this year, would be a recommendation on where to start digging up that kind of information.) But overall, I appreciated this very engaging, well-written narrative that focused on people and still illustrated the systemic forces at work....more
The parts dealing with the mortuary career were so interesting, but the book suffered from a lack of introspective depth. Williams described her actuaThe parts dealing with the mortuary career were so interesting, but the book suffered from a lack of introspective depth. Williams described her actual work with verve, but the intellectual and emotional insights, or even just reflections, were few and far between. The book was frustratingly shallow.
And some of those few insights that were there just rubbed me the wrong way. In a throw-away sentence, Williams mused about whether family members were embarrassed that a fat relative's body required additional effort and manpower to remove in the hour after his death, and I just scowled at the book. I'm really not supportive of inflicting shame on people for their bodies--or the bodies of their loved ones, for Pete's sake!--and Williams wondering whether embarrassment was the dominant feeling of the relatives seems pretty shallow and cruel, and it made Williams come across as really unsympathetic to me. It was such an unnecessary show of being belittling.
The intrusions of unnecessary descriptions of Williams's personal life brought the book down because, so often, all the chatter about her life outside the morgue was not relevant, or only barely relevant, and yet passages were devoted to lengthy descriptions of things like choosing a place to eat dinner. The times when Williams' personal life did intersect with her work, those passages were memorable and moving. But like with the introspection, these times were infrequent.
The quick anecdotes, the lack of connection between said anecdotes, and the chatty-but-shallow tone left me thinking that the book would have been better suited in the format of a blog....more
Steven Kotler's A Small Furry Prayer is a three-hundred page answer to a question that seems deceptively simple: why be involved in dog rescue? Myth aSteven Kotler's A Small Furry Prayer is a three-hundred page answer to a question that seems deceptively simple: why be involved in dog rescue? Myth and mysticism, science and conscience, data and anecdote, all play their part in Kotler's thoughtful, multi-faceted response.
Enjoyment of this book probably depends on having the right expectations going into it. This is not a dog story. Yes, you'll meet dogs, learn their personalities, and likely smile and cry at their stories. But that's not the focus of this book. This is not a sweet, feel-good story about how a dog came into someone's life and turned that someone into a better person--though that does seem to happen to Kotler. This is not a story about what dogs can do for us humans--though that too is addressed in the book. The focus of this book is what we can do for dogs, and why, and the personal story of how one couple commits themselves, beyond what many people would consider reasonable, to dog rescue. It's an examination of what one form of biotic egalitarianism (in which all life is of equal worth and value) might look like in practice, and how a person might come to believe that such a theory holds merit and meaning.
I enjoy both popular science and philosophy, and I love dogs (starting with my own rescued dogs), so the intersectional focus of A Small Furry Prayer was right up my alley. I did find myself sometimes confused by the lack of a clear timeline, and by the way the book jumped, without much warning, back and forth in time while relating Kotler's personal story. His story, though, definitely was one I enjoyed, because he stumbled into dog rescue unintentionally, and he's no martyr or saint. He came across as both remarkably normal and bafflingly insane, a dynamic that strangely only made him all the more relatable. I questioned his sanity frequently, but I wanted to go on this intellectual journey with him.
The book is twisty, but its tangents go thoughtful, diverse places. It's kind of like a college course (The History, Ethics, Psychology, and Reality of Human-Dog Cohabitation) taught by a wild-eyed, possibly crazy professor who connects a range of fascinating theories and scientific studies with wisdom gleamed from his own life. The ideas and topics Kotler touches upon are deep and engaging enough to deserve books of their own, but he moves quickly from one to the next, which sometimes worked for me but sometimes left me unsatisfied.
This book is anything but pat or easy to swallow, but it has left ideas cascading through my head.
Note: I received a review copy of this book for free from the publisher via the First Reads program here at Goodreads....more
There isn't much analytical depth here, but that's what's so appealing about Meghan McCain's memoir of her father's 2008 presidential campaign: it's aThere isn't much analytical depth here, but that's what's so appealing about Meghan McCain's memoir of her father's 2008 presidential campaign: it's authentic and she puts the reader right in her shoes. You don't need an analysis of why the Republicans are out of touch with the moderates and the youth of America (and, particularly, moderate youth), because Meghan shows it in action. She puts us in her shoes when she shows what it's like to be a "daughter-of," and the complicated image-work necessary to survive as a woman in politics. Her stories are funny and sad, and her authenticity shines through. She clearly knows herself--her flaws and her strengths--well, and she owns up to her feelings, her actions, and her words. She doesn't shy away from the times she fell short of expected behavior, and she doesn't shy away from unpleasant or unfavorable feelings. As a memoir, I found this book slight but engaging.
The title of the book is a bit of a disservice; McCain does talk about dirty politics and sexy politics, about the awful politics that she witnesses, but she also clearly cares about real and authentic politics, too. She cares about the people behind the politics and it shows: from her own family and her own little sister, to Bristol Palin, to the future daughters-of she openly invites to get in touch with her, McCain connects people to politics, and that's what this book does well. She's not a political theorist, and those looking for a hardhitting shakedown of the Republican party will be disappointed. However, McCain shares a look into the political side of her life in order to demonstrate why the Republican party needs to return to its roots of individualism and freedom, and what it's losing by not. "Being a Republican is not a lifestyle choice," she writes. "[...] It's bad enough to find yourself put in a box by your opposition. But when a political party starts putting itself in a box, it is not a box. It is a coffin."...more